Developing teacher leadership and its impact in schools
Leadership of teachers is considered as one of the key factors for innovation and quality improvement in schools. However, as leadership qualities are not a standard element in initial teacher education programs, arrangements for post-initial professional development of teachers in schools needs to address the development of teacher leadership qualities.
In my dissertation I focused on two questions: what learning arrangements are effective in supporting teachers in developing their leadership qualities? And to what extent and under what conditions can development of these leadership qualities impact practices in school?
Based on an analysis of trends and developments in post-initial teacher education, three possible learning arrangements for developing teacher leadership can be identified, a school-centered arrangement (e.g. in an academic development school or PDS), an institutional-centered arrangement (through a formal university-driven Master’s program), and a partnership arrangement (through a partnership-driven Master’s program).
Literature reviews on effective learning environments for teachers emphasize school-centered designs which focus on daily practices in school and which take teachers as co-creators of the program. Post-initial Masters programs for teachers often do not meet these design criteria, as they are university-centered with fixed curricula that can hardly be influenced by the participants.
Nevertheless, Master’s programs are often promoted as one of the pathways for teacher development and improvement of schools. Underlying assumption is that improved teacher competences resulting from a Master’s program will have a positive impact on the quality of teaching and learning in schools. Master’s programs that are designed as an intervention for professional development are expected to have impact on the workplace. This raises questions concerning the transfer of competences that are developed during the Master’s program towards the workplace.
Based on a qualitative study amongst graduates from a post-initial Master’s program on teacher leadership and their supervisors, it can be concluded that teachers that were engaged in the Master’s program developed their leadership competences and were motivated to use these competences at their school to support school development. However, only one third of the graduates felt that they had the opportunity to use these competences within their school at levels outside their own classrooms. These opportunities were connected to strategic partnerships that they developed with their supervisor at school (school leader or team leader). More than half of the graduates felt frustrated that they did not have the opportunity to use their leadership competences as the school structure and culture did not create room for teacher leadership. They felt not recognized and supported.
This outcome confirmed that the Master’s program had unsufficient alignment with school structures and cultures. The program focused on individual participants and their professional development while the participants were expected to bridge the boundaries between school and university. However, when teachers who were changed by completing a Master’s program, returned to unchanged schools, they had a hard if not impossible job to change the school on their own.
This outcomes confirmed the boundaries between school and universities. These boundaries need to be taken into account if the ambition is that Master’s graduates will contribute to a change in schools. Based on these outcomes, the program design was adapted, by understanding the Master’s program as a boundary zone between school and universities and creating a partnership-based design. The thesis project and other assignments of the master’s students were considered as boundary objects that could support a profession dialogue between the activity systems of school and university. The process of boundary crossing was strengthened by having several participants from one school, creating a critical mass with the schools. Also, the schools were engaged in the development of the program, creating a strategic alignment between the aims of the Master’s program and the strategic aims of the schools. The teachers were positioned as senior teachers within the schools, strengthening them in a position that could not be ignored.
This new design led to an increase of the impact of the program: the participants could use their newly developed competences and contribute both to changes in their work environment and in the leadership practices within their teams. Key factors in this process were the strategic alignment between the program aims and the change agenda of the schools, the collectiveness of the program and the way in which the participants were positioned in their schools. At the same time the involvement of supervisors from the schools and university teachers in a professional dialogue connecting the two activity systems were still limited. Boundary objects were missing that could facilitate a three-way dialogue between participants, their supervisors from the schools, and their university teachers. Both university teachers and supervisors limited their roles to a two way dialogue with the participant, keeping the participant still as a negotiator between two worlds. The challenge is to develop boundary objects that can turn the two-way dialogues into a three-way dialogue.
Summarizing, the studies raise a number of challenges both for schools and for providers of in-service professional development programs for teachers:
- If post-initial programs aim to impact school practice, their design should not only focus on professional development of individuals, but also on initiating interventions at the school level.
- Therefore these programs need to be based on a shared alignments between aims of the program and the innovation agenda of the school
- To reach that alignment, such programs need to be developed in partnership.
- Activities within the program should aim at stimulating a professional dialogue between school and university where three stakeholders are involved: the Master’s student, his supervisor at the school and his university teacher.
Marco Snoek, Expertise Centre for Teaching and Education, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences.
Snoek, M. (2014). Developing teacher leadership and its impact in schools. Amsterdam, HvA.